I have a personal affinity with Greece. It is something that seems to have seeped into my family genes with my sister studying Archaeology and Classics at university and my love of Ancient Greek tragedy and the myths. The Greeks used these myths as ways to explain and understand the world and its elements. I have always found these stories beautiful and the characters within them fascinating. They act as the embodiment of humanity with all of our flaws and magic held inside their fictional bodies.
It is because of my love for these stories and the history of ancient Greece, when I stand in the middle of the Acropolis or the Ancient Agora I do not feel that I am merely surrounded by rubble and stone. The power that these old ruins used to represent is ever present. Of course I understand this is not how everyone feels. Many of my friends would much rather frequent the Athenian Tavernas rather than spend time exploring the theatre of Dionysus. However, I’m going to give you five tips to the un-tourists guide to Athens.
2. Bringing the rocks to life
Myths. The Greek myths are herculean in their importance to the culture and understanding the relics. For example, once you know who Athena is and how she became the Goddess of Athens the freezes and engravings suddenly start to depict those magical stories you read about before your trip. The main ones you need to understand for Athens are; the battle of Athena and Poseidon, the Trojan war, the trails of Hercules (watching the Disney film doesn’t count) and a brief understanding of the Odyssey. Even a quick google of these fables and tales will enrich your visit.
3. The golden ticket
Athens’ tourist sector is made of the ancient grounds (the acropolis, ancient agora etc), Plaka and Phyx. Plaka and Phyx are both free districts, whereas the ancient sites are ticketed. The cheapest way to see these is to buy the 12 Euro ancient ticket available from most tourist shops and at the entrance to the sites themselves. This ticket allows you entrance into all the main sites and is valid for four days (they tend to keep this quiet). So if you feel like you can’t take in anymore culture that day and you just need to sit down and drink a jug of wine, you can without any guilt.
A note to remember is that the relatively new Acropolis museum is not included in this ticket and is definitely worth a trip. During peak season this does get busy, so if you have more than one evening I would suggest going later on in the day, as it is open till 8pm most days. The price is a very reasonable 5 euros and is free for students from anywhere in the world. In fact, all of the main archaeological sites are free for students. So for god sake don’t forget your student card!
Our waiter Nikos’ family owned the place and he worked there alongside his degree at the University of Athens in electrical engineering (impressive). He was as much interesting as he was lovely. Traditional Greek guitar music was playing and the jugs of wine where flowing. At the end of the meal it is tradition that a shot of local spirit (normally ouzo) is provided free of charge. Surprisingly mum said it was ‘quite pleasant’. So the moral of this little story is, don’t be scared about eating in the main tourist areas. As Athens is quite small and food is a Greek passion you are normally quite safe.
5. The best view of Greece isn’t from the Acropolis…
As I mentioned before one of the free districts of Athens is called Phyx. This was my favourite place we visited. It was exactly how I imagined the ancient world of Athens would’ve looked like. With bent olive trees lining winding stone paths up hills and the warm sun creating golden speckles on the ground.
Most tourist will head up to the top of the Acopolis to watch the sunset over Athens. This is undoubtable beautiful, but what you are going to is head to Phyx and climb up the mount of the muses. You’re going to take some wine, cheese and bread brought from the local market in Plaka and a blanket. Then when you have found your way through the beautiful trees to the top of the hill you are going to gasp at the panoramic view before your eyes. From the sea, across to the acropolis and far reaching to the mountains this is a view that can’t be beaten and you can bet that you won’t have to fight your way through crowds to get there.
More blogs about Greece are on their way. In the meantime happy travelling.